How to Choose and Use a Youth Archery Coach

by Tom and Chelsea Barker

There may come a time when your child shows significant potential as an archer and you find that you cannot help them anymore. It is time to find a mentor or coach for your child. This article is written to help you choose a coach and then assist you in how to benefit the most from that person.

How to Choose
We suggest you approach hiring a coach like you would hire a nanny or housekeeper. You are interviewing them to steward your child. You should look for basic credentials such as NAA certifications, other youth archers they work with and experience as an archer. There are very good coaches that may not have the highest certifications or be the most accomplished archers, yet they can do wonders with youth archers. There are others that are very accomplished and highly certified, but may not be able to communicate well or have a demeanor that is not ideal for working with kids in a role model position. It is best if you can see them work in order to judge the quality of fit.

By quality of fit: Does this coach meet the style that is best suited for your child? While this may get a chuckle, there are definite differences in coaching approaches with girls and boys. Some coaches are "in-your-face" kind of coaches with a very results-oriented style. Others are more process oriented and collegial in their style. With some students a mere suggestion is all that is needed. Other archers have to be convinced to try something new. We prefer the process oriented approach because in most circumstances the youngster has choices and is doing archery for fun. A more directive approach can turn off many youth archers who are unsure or unconfident. The objective is not to win the super bowl or go to war, so a more relationship oriented approach is tried. There are times to be authoritative with youth archers especially when they are high-performance and goal-driven, but we suggest that this only comes after a strong student-teacher relationship has been established. The coach must ensure that the archer is willing and able to improve.

How to Use Your Coach
Once you have a coach in mind, you should communicate your expectations and boundary conditions. You are the customer here. Sure, there is some give-and-take in the negotiations such as fees, timing and schedule. But, there are some things that are non-negotiable and should be settled up front. For example: if the child is experiencing pain from some aspect of shooting, shooting stops.

Once the sessions begin, you and the coach should be working together. This requires good communications on homework, expectations and goal setting. One role for the parent is to reinforce positives and minimize negatives. For example, there usually is a decline in initial performance when the archer begins trying new things the coach is suggesting. The parent can help allay fears that the youngster might have. It is sometimes difficult for young people to understand that things might get worse before they get better. A good coach will report accomplishments or tasks that are being worked on during practice after each lesson to keep you informed to further support the child.

It is sometimes hard for the parent to give up their old role as coach/parent and just be the parent now. The new parent role is chief cheerleader and auditor. If you find yourself in conflict with the instructions the coach is giving the youngster, it is time to discuss it with the coach away from the archer. It can also be detrimental to try and augment the instructions the coach is giving because the youngster may not be ready for that part yet or it can overload them.

One of the most trying times for parents is at tournaments. Tournaments are when everyone gets to see the results of the work the coach and archer have put in. Sometimes it can be an improvement, but frequently it can indicate more training is needed. Guy Krueger once mentioned that how an archer performs in tournaments only indicates if they are ahead or behind their training schedule. One of the hardest things for a parent to do is to let the coach be the coach at a tournament. A coach should have the ability to maintain a collected demeanor to keep the archer calm and focused on the task at hand to help the archer with their mental game. This is essential to the archer's performance, especially at a big tournament. Parents, while coaches understand your feelings, it is easy to get caught up emotionally with how your child is doing and if your child sees that anxiety, it can be detrimental to their mental game. In crucial moments at a tournament, it is often beneficial for the parents to watch from a bit of a distance and let the coach have the contact with your child at that point. The child can still see you and knows you are watching and encouraging (give them a big thumbs up or something visual to encourage them). All the archer is looking for from mom and dad are unconditional support and reassurance. It is enormously comforting to the youth archer to know that all I have to do is shoot because if anything goes wrong, I have my coach and my parents behind me. As parents, it is important to reinforce positives, such as personal bests, good shots, improved form, a positive attitude, or good sportsmanship. We should deemphasize score, placement, poor shots and mistakes. If any person shoots long enough, a "bad" day is bound to happen, but with the right approach, it can be turned into a learning event and made into a "good" day.

If you want your child's coach at the tournament, you should expect to pay for that. But here is what you should and should not expect. Do not expect a lot of "coaching" to occur at a tournament. There is enough stress at a match already. Your coach may make minor suggestions about shot execution to reinforce what they have been working on, but do not expect major changes here. In all honesty, a tournament is not the place to do that. Please do not feel that just because the coach is not changing things in the middle of the tournament that you should fill in the gap. The coach is observing and making mental notes about things to work on for the next sessions. The coach pays attention to how the archer operates and approaches each shot mentally during practice and can influence the thought process in a positive manner that is specific to your child. Do not expect your coach to watch every single shot of your archer. They are looking for other things from other archers that might help your child. They also want to see how independent the archer is. Have they learned how to adjust their sights, how to shoot in the wind, and how to interact with other archers on the line? A good coach will work to give the student independence in those areas to give them confidence in their abilities early on and to have them involved in all aspects of shooting because it is not just pulling the string back and letting it go. All of those skills are just as important to learn without help from the coach or parent. Expect your coach to be an additional cheerleader and to support your archer at a tournament. The coach should positively reinforce the things that have been worked on in practice that are going well

Finally, there may come a time when a good coach comes to you and says that he or she cannot help your child anymore. This is a good coach who knows his or her limitations and will be useful in helping your youth archer find a new mentor. This can be tough for the archer who sees the old coach now as friend and confidant. But it helps if both the coach and parents explain to the archer that they are not replacing the coach, as children may fear severing that relationship. They are instead adding to the team, just as when the original coach was added to the team.

About the authors:

Ten years ago Tom started in archery when his son, Kevin, was 8 years old.  After a year of watching her brother have all the fun, Tom's daughter Chelsea said, I can do that.  They all started shooting with the Goliad County 4H archery project and later founded the South Texas Archery JOAD group.

Tom's passion has been youth archery because of the life skills that can be taught through archery.   Tom is an NFAA certified coach and a NAA Level II instructor and has mentored hundreds of youth archers.

Chelsea shot as a JOAD archer for eight years and put her bow down in order to obtain a degree in exercise physiology at Baylor University.  She will perform her graduate work at Texas Tech starting the summer of 2005.  She has conducted summer camps and continues to mentor both recurve and compound archers.  She is a NAA Level II instructor.

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